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Sierra Leone

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Last updated on 27.07.2018 at 10:40

Sierra Leone-Overview

Despite laws aimed at strengthening space for civil society in Sierra-Leone, events reveal that there remain several impediments to the full realisation of civic space rights.

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"You are warned": police threaten the public on discussing governance issues in the media and online

"You are warned": police threaten the public on discussing governance issues in the media and online

On 20th July 2018, the Sierra Leone Police issued a statement expressing its concern "about the manner in which critical issues bordering on state security and issues of public concern are being discussed/published in the electronic, print and the social media which have he tendency to create insecurity, instability and fear in the minds of people".

Expression

On 20th July 2018, the Sierra Leone Police issued a statement expressing concern "about the manner in which critical issues bordering on state security and issues of public concern are being discussed/published in the electronic, print and the social media which have the tendency to create insecurity, instability and fear in the minds of people". The statement further singled out two media outlets - FM 98.1 and AYV Television - for making "misleading, disrespectful and inciting statements" on a set of governance issues including the removal of the fuel subsidy, the executive orders of President Julius Maada Bio, the report of the Governance Transition Team among others. 

The statement ended with a threat to members of the public:

"The public is advised to desist from these acts as they are against the Public Order Act of 1965, violators would be expeditiously made amenable to the law. Nobody is above the law. You have been warned."

The statement was heavily criticised as an attempt to stifle freedom of expression. The Sierra Leone Bar Association stated in its press release on 23rd July: 

"The Association is of the strong conviction that issues of national importance must be opened to debate and discussions by all citizens and there should be no attempt to impinge on lawful and reasonable criticisms or lawful dissenting opinions or comments. Unsubstantiated 'tension, chaos and instability’ must not be used as pretext to muzzle free speech and expressions."

Peaceful Assembly

On 17th July 2018, as President Bio marked his first 100 days in office, Sierra Leoneans took to the streets in Freetown to protest the recent increase in fuel prices due to the government's removal of fuel subsidies. Police officers arrested activist Edmond Abu during the protest and took him to the Criminal Investigation Unit where he was questioned before being released. 

In its new report "A Force for Good? Restrictions on Freedom of Assembly and Impunity for Excessive Use of Force used by the Sierra Leone Police", Amnesty International outline how authorities in Sierra Leone have restricted the right to peaceful assembly through refusal of permission, especially for opposition or critical civil society protests, and through the use of excessive force. Impunity for the excessive use of force by police, which has led to deaths and injuries of protesters, is pervasive. According to the report, at least 9 people were killed and 80 people injured during protests in the past 10 years. 

Association

Article 26 of the Constitution provides for freedom of association.

Article 26 of the Constitution provides for freedom of association. NGOs must register with the Ministry of Finance and Economic Development and operate within the framework of revised NGO Policy Regulations from 2009. The regulations state that NGOs must renew their registration every two years; failure to do so results in termination of the organisation’s operations. Organisations are also subject to a requirement to report annually. Reports must including all projects implemented, donors’ details and other supervisory requirements. Human Rights Defenders face harassment, threats and intimidation, especially those working on land rights and corporate accountability.

Peaceful Assembly

Article 26 of Sierra Leone’s constitution provides for freedom of assembly; however it is regulated by the Public Order Act (POA) 1965 and the Police Act, 1964, laws which impose some limitations on this right.

Article 26 of Sierra Leone’s constitution provides for freedom of assembly; however it is regulated by the Public Order Act (POA) 1965 and the Police Act, 1964, laws which impose some limitations on this right. For any meeting of ten persons and above, a permit must be secured from the Commissioner of Police 48 hours before the meeting commences. To convene a public meeting anywhere within the provinces, the permission of the Paramount Chief of the Chiefdom must be sought in writing. Although, there is no reliable information on the number of requests to hold rallies that are denied, restrictions regarding public gathering or demonstrations are provided for in section 19 of the POA. Police have also used excessive force to disperse peaceful protests, especially during the state of emergency which was sparked by the Ebola crisis in 2015.

Expression

Freedom of expression is constitutionally protected in Sierra Leone.

Freedom of expression is constitutionally protected in Sierra Leone. However, legislative restrictions are still in place, for instance the Public Order Act which criminalises defamatory and seditious libel and the publication of false news. This legislation is used by the authorities to prosecute journalists critical of the government. Journalists who criticise the government are also are subject to intimidation and harassment and even detention. Although several newspapers are published in the country, all of the information is printed in English which limits proper access to information for the majority which does not speak or understand English. Since 2013, Sierra Leone has benefitted from an access to information law, however its proper implementation is still lacking. During the 2014 Ebola crisis, the government used powers granted by the state of emergency to silence and arrest journalists critical of government policies.